Legendary football commentator John Motson has died aged 77

Mick the Ram

Feb 24, 2023

​There was real sadness around the football world in England today (23 February) when news broke of the death of legendary football commentator John Motson, at the age of 77. His family posted a brief statement which read: “It is with great sadness we announce that John Motson, OBE, died peacefully in his sleep today.” He had been diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2014.

Commonly referred to as “Motty” he was to many supporters the voice of football, having made his debut on Match of the Day, way back in 1971. It was a game at non-league Hereford United that would be the making of him, when he described a late equaliser in a game against Newcastle United, which is replayed year after year and has become synonymous with the FA Cup.

He became famous for his trademark sheepskin coats and his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the game. The popular commentator covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships and 29 FA Cup finals, plus over 200 England internationals for BBC Sport; in total he commentated on almost 2,500 televised games.


He retired in 2018, after 50 years with the organisation and on his final game at Crystal Palace for a fixture against West Bromwich Albion, he received applause from all around the ground, when he was encouraged to do a lap of honour.

Motson became an OBE in 2001 for services to sports broadcasting and was also recognised at the British Academy Film and Television Awards in 2018 for his “outstanding contribution to sports broadcasting.”

“Oh what a goal by Radford!”

John Motson is widely regarded as one of the greatest football commentators English football fans have had the pleasure of listening to, but by his own admission, much of this is down to a stroke of luck… and a thirty-five yard screamer.


In October 1971, his commentated on a dull 0–0 draw between Liverpool and Chelsea on his first appearance on Match of the Day. The BBC had given him a trial after impressing bosses with his radio work in previous seasons. However, it was on 5 February 1972 that Motson’s life changed forever. He had been assigned to cover an FA cup replay between Hereford United and Newcastle United, and he was told it would be just a short five minute slot.

Hereford had shocked their illustrious opponents a couple of weeks earlier by holding them to a draw at Newcastle’s St James’ Park, but everybody expected the first division outfit, with free-scoring Malcolm Macdonald up front, to finish the job off this time around. Sure enough Macdonald put the Geordies one up, but Hereford wouldn’t lie down and with five minutes to go came theirs and Motson’s big moment.

On a pitch resembling a ploughed field, Ronnie Radford won a lose ball in midfield and played it forward, then ran on to the return pass and smashed a shot from well outside the box into the top corner of the net, for an extraordinary equaliser, to spark remarkable scenes, with the crowd, most of whom seemed to be wearing a Parka coat, streaming onto the pitch.

Motson’s commentary of that goal is now legendary: “Oh what a goal! Radford the scorer. Ronnie Radford! And the crowd are on the pitch. What a tremendous shot by Ronnie Radford, no goalkeeper in the world would have stopped that!”

Hereford went on to win the game in extra-time and in later years when discussing the game, Motson often had to correct people who were convinced Radford’s shot was the winner; although for him it was… he was immediately assigned higher profile matches by the very impressed BBC executives and he subsequently signed a three-year contract with the broadcaster. Motty had established himself, and he would never look back.

The “stat” man

These days a click on the phone or laptop will bring up any statistic that a supporter might be interested in, and all done in just a matter of seconds; but back in the day things were not so easy. That meant Motson’s encyclopedic knowledge of football, and his ability to remember obscure facts and statistics about players and matches, won him an army of fans.

His attention to detail and enthusiasm gave his commentaries his own unique style. He had an on-going rivalry with fellow commontator Barry Davies, but for most, Motson’s take on matches was just better.

Early Boston fan

Born in Salford in 1945, his father was a methodist minister. He was baptised in Boston, Lincolnshire and spent his childhood holidays there. He would follow the local team and often talked about them playing the mighty Derby County in an FA Cup game back in 1955.

Ironically it would be the Rams who would feature in his first radio commentary in 1969, when Derby were the visitors to the eventual League Champions, Everton, in a game that he described as a treat, with current or later to be internationals such as: Alan Ball, Joe Royle, Brian Labone, Keith Newton, Dave Mackay, Roy McFarland, Alan Durban, Kevin Hector, and Alan Hinton, all gracing the Goodison Park pitch.

Some of Motty’s famous lines

The commentator was renowned for his one-liners, almost scripted, yet alwalys off the cuff. Here are just a very small sample of his favourites:

“And there it is, the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club!” delivered at the final whistle after Wimbledon’s shock victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final.

“Ohh, this is getting better and better and better. One, two, three for Michael Owen!” His reaction to the striker’s hat-trick goal in England’s 5-1 drubbing of Germany in a World Cup qualifier, in Munich in September 2001. He singled this game out as his favourite of any England game he commentated on.

“And the referee has gone across now with his hand in his pocket. It’s red, it’s Zidane! You can’t excuse that, Zidane’s career ends in disgrace!” Describing the incredible head butt, which saw France’s captain receive his marching orders in the 2006 World Cup final against Italy.

“Villa…AND STILL RICKY VILLA! What a fantastic run! He’s scored!” capturing the moment the Argentinian weaved his way past seemingly all of Manchester City’s defenders to score a memorable winner for Tottenham in the 1981 FA Cup final replay.

“For those of you watching in black and white, Spurs are in the all-yellow strip” Definitely a tongue in cheek moment when commentating on another Spurs game, with a playful nod to legendary snooker commentator, the late Ted Lowe, who famously uttered the immortal phrase, “and for those of you who are watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green.”


BBC director-general Tim Davie said John Motson was the voice of a footballing generation, recognising his talent in adding: “Like all the greats behind the mic, John had the right words, at the right time, for all the big moments.”

Director of BBC Sport Barbara Slater offered her condolences to the family before making the point that his distinctive tone had gone hand in glove with so many great footballing moments. “For so many of us, John’s voice will have provided a special memory and commentary line, that still strongly resonates.”

Gary Lineker tweeted that he was shocked to learn about John Motson’s passing, adding that he was a very talented analyst who had “long served as the voice of football in this nation.”

Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler, said: “For all of us, John set the bar high; we basically all looked up to him, his diligence, his dedication, his knowledge, but he was also a real fun guy to be around.”

Another commentator Clive Tyldesley, who worked alongside John Motson at the BBC during the 1990’s, said: “I have lost a friend, first and foremost, but such was the reach of John that I think many thousands of people who never got to meet him will feel as if they have lost a friend too.”

Current Premier League leaders Arsenal, paid their own tribute saying: “One of the greatest commentators of his generation, he was synonymous with so many of the beautiful game’s most incredible moments.”

On his retirement he said at the time: “It has to end some time and I just thought my 50th year in the BBC would be a good note to go out on.” After his last game at Crystal Palace he was invited on to the pitch at full-time and former England boss, and then Palace manager, Roy Hodgson presented him with a framed copy of the programme from his first and last matches at Selhurst Park, and a crystal microphone. He said on finishing: I didn’t want people saying that he’s lost it; I wanted to go out while I was still commentating as well – or as badly – as I have for all those years.”

A “spot” of genius commentry

When asked about favourite commentaries he would usually say there were too many to single any out, but one that he would always bring up was from a game featuring Derby County again. He said he always enjoyed watching the Rams, not least because his son Frederick supported them. In April 1977 the great Derby team of previous seasons had come off the rails somewhat, and found themselves struggling at the wrong end of the table, and a game against Manchester City could have put them in further trouble, but everything clicked into place in a second half blitz.

Derby hit three goals after the break and then with just four minutes to go they were awarded a penalty. The Baseball Ground pitch was notoriously bad, and usually a mud-heap, but on this occasion it was the opposite, dry as a bone, without hardly any grass in either penalty area. City’s goalkeeper took issue with the location of the penalty spot and this was Motty’s moment to shine: “Joe Corrigan is remonstrating with the referee and is pacing out the 12 yards.” he said.

The Rams head groundsman Bob Smith appeared with a pot of paint and Motty continued: “Here comes the pot of paint, this is extraordinary, we’re going to see the penalty spot painted are we during the match?” He then made the point: “There are only four minutes to go, Gerry Daly is waiting to score what he hopes will be the fourth goal, but before he can take the penalty here is the tape measure, and here is the pot of paint!”

He keeps quiet whilst the referee measures out the 12 yards then continues: “And the referee says the ball was correctly placed; well this is extraordinary, there is certainly some football history being made here, I am sure the penalty spot has never been painted during a first division match before. Well who has been unsettled by that, Daly or Corrigan?” he asked before pausing. Then as the Irish international stroked the ball into the bottom corner, he brilliantly summed things up with: “Number four… from the number four!” Just a fabulous couple of minutes from a master at work.

Tragedy almost lost him his love of the game

One of his worst moments came when he witnessed the tragic events at Hillsborough in 1989 which resulted in the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans. He found himself commentating on the shocking scene playing out in front of him, rather than a football match, and he later appeared as a witness at the subsequent inquiry. He said that he almost lost his love of football after that day.

A bit of Motty in all of us

That he didn’t was a triumph for football followers everywhere who continued to enjoy his unique style. Literally millions of people have hung on his every word, in some of the biggest football matches.

Many will be able to relate to doing their own little version of commentating from time to time, even if it is just with the kids in a knock about on the park, and more often than not each line of commentary will have a little bit of John Motson in it!

1 Comment

  1. David Kierton

    Brilliant memories from Mick the Ram, keep up the great work.


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